High Court judges to keep their pounds 4m lodgings

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High Court judges will continue to live in splendour after a review of value-for-money from their lodgings, which currently cost tax payers more than pounds 4m a year, concluded yesterday that the present system should stay.

However, the inquiry recommended savings and called for improvements into what it described as an "inadequate management framework".

The review was ordered by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, last July, after figures revealed that in 1993-94 it cost on average of pounds 122,000 to maintain the 32 lodgings used by High Court judges in England and Wales. In some properties the average weekly cost was more than pounds 10,000.

The judges stay free of charge in the historic lodgings when they are trying cases on a circuit outside London. The lodgings, kept exclusively for their use, have been criticised as a waste of tax payers' money.

Among the recommendations made by the head of the Court Service was to reduce the average annual cost for housing each judge from pounds 43,608 to pounds 30,000, or from pounds 3,303 to pounds 2,500 a week. The review also said judges should make more use of the properties and recommended a reassessment of lodgings staff, who cost about pounds 1m each year.

The report found one of the worst cases was at Lewes, East Sussex. The manor house, leased from the National Trust, costs about pounds 287,000 a year, but only accommodates 2 per cent of the judges. A housekeeper and two assistants cost pounds 45,000 a year.

"Lewes is the most expensive of the permanent lodgings and ... the maintenance costs for the buildings are enormous," the report said. "Alternative arrangements should be explored immediately."

The Exeter accommodation, a larger manor house that can house three judges, is criticised as providing poor value for money because rooms were only used on 14 weeks during 1993-94 at a cost of pounds 6,500 a week. Closer scrutiny of costs and regular financial reports were called for, to include reviewing car arrangements and, where suitable, replacing limousines with saloons. In the three years to April 1994 the average cost of lodgings was pounds 4,190,000, including pounds 500,000 for car hire. Lord Hailsham, former Lord Chancellor, has defended the system, which he argues is needed to provide adequate security and privacy.